Arizona Vote Watchers are also watching

Arizona Vote Watchers are also watching

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona – On a postcard-perfect fall day in suburban Phoenix, Steven Martin arrived at an early voting location not to cast his own vote, but to do something else: see if there were any someone else to intimidate someone who was throwing his.

“Go shoot some movies,” said Martin, a retiree from Scottsdale.

A short time later, Brian Curry, a semi-retired Phoenix man who delivers with GrubHub, stopped by to hand out Chips Ahoy cookies to poll volunteers and keep an eye on voters. “I think our democracy is in danger,” he said. “I never thought that before.”

There wasn’t much to film, or keep an eye on, during this quiet Tuesday afternoon in Indian School Park, except for voters walking in and out of the polling center and volunteers chatting outside. The same was almost certainly true for dozens of other polling places in Maricopa County, home to 2.5 million Arizona voters, where the vast majority of early ballots in a busy election season were cast without incident.

But a series of shocking scenes there have, for many, shattered the image of democracy humming along as intended — and prompted regular citizens like Martin and Curry to show up at seemingly sleepy polling stations out of concern that the integrity of the vote is serious. risk

On the night of October 21, two masked men, armed with tactical weapons, were seen camping outside a 24-hour ballot box in the suburb of Mesa. The previous week, outside the Maricopa County election headquarters in downtown Phoenix, a voter was filmed by someone accusing him of being a “vote mule,” and people dressed in camusciu allegedly took photos of voters leaving their votes.

After the 2020 election, Arizona was the source of many of the electoral conspiracy theories that continue to grip the Republican Party today. Now, convinced that their lack of vigilance then allowed the Democrats to steal the election from Donald Trump, the Big Lie believers are taking new measures to act on these baseless conspiracies and intimidate voters from exercising their their rights.

Clean Elections USA, an outfit led by fringe conspiracists, has asked for volunteers to prepare at the polls around the state. Fittingly, their activities have garnered tacit approval from GOP candidates across the state, such as Mark Finchem, the candidate for secretary of state who rose to prominence by fomenting these claims.

So far, those conspiratorial armies have not materialized, and the defenders of the protection of voters emphasize that the cases of intimidation have been limited so far.

However, they managed to get a lot of voters in Arizona.

Gay Willits, an interior designer who stopped by Scottsdale’s early voting center to cast his ballot, approached his once-mundane civic duty with dark humor: He laughed with a fellow voter about encountering armed vigilantes in the polling place.

But he told The Daily Beast that the reports prompted him to drop his ballot at an early voting center rather than a ballot box, where he feared someone might take a photo of his license plate or follow him.

Such is the sad reality of the vote in 2022 in a pivotal state that will help decide the national balance of power – and determine whether those who helped to unravel the electoral conspiracies will win the authority to manage this state. Many worry that the attention of national and local media and politicians on the threats could make voters too afraid or disabled to participate and influence the outcome of this election.

“The more we talk about ‘unprecedented’ voter intimidation, the more we blow it out of proportion,” said Alex Gulotta, an attorney and Arizona director for All Voting Is Local, a voting rights nonprofit. “They want it to be scary, they want to create an impression that it’s scary to go to the polls.”

Many Arizona election officials and advocates are optimistic that voters will be free to exercise their rights — and that retirees and out-of-work workers won’t have to go out and patrol their local polling places to make sure that it happens

It’s not clear how many such people took it upon themselves to watch observers, but “it’s not surprising” that they did, said Taylor Moss, the Director of Electoral Protection at the Democracy Resource Center in Arizona.

Moss’s organization is just one of many important forces countering this wave of conspiracy-fueled voter intimidation. They have trained 200 volunteers across the state to monitor the polls, along with 80 “defenders,” mobile volunteers who are trained to respond to reported threats in specific locations and peacefully subside.

“What people are hearing, it’s scary,” Moss said. “We love that people want to help, but we call it de-escalation because things can escalate quickly. We want everyone to be safe. From our point of view, if it’s something that people are interested in, we prefer to be trained, just because we want to make sure that everyone is safe and nothing happens that can be avoided.”

The situation at the ballot box in Mesa attracted most of the attention of the local and national media, and most of the concern of organizers like Moss. Located in a county government parking lot, it is one of two 24-hour polls open in Maricopa County. Conspiracy peddlers like Dinesh D’Souza, director of the movie “2,000 Mules”, have spread the baseless idea that such drop boxes are uniquely vulnerable to fraudsters who fill them with fake votes.

There are a multitude of reasons why these theories and the efforts that follow to monitor the boxes are profoundly stupid, according to Maricopa County Recorder Steven Richer. he explained. A ballot box, for one, is basically the same as a mailbox when it comes to delivering early votes. Additionally, there are a number of redundancies in the vote tabulation process to prevent multiple votes from a single person.

However, Republican candidates for office in Arizona have sought favor with their base by amplifying these debunked theories and encouraging efforts to live in fallout boxes.

“We’re an open carry state, people can check those boxes, because the county certainly isn’t,” Finchem said in a recent media interview. (The county has, in fact, put the drop boxes under 24-hour surveillance.)

Blake Masters, the Republican challenger to Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), encouraged his supporters not to intimidate voters, but to “throw out your video camera and record to make sure that people are not voting.” Of course, this behavior is written by the defenders of voter protection as textbook intimidation of the voter.

In response to his comments, Richer, a Republican, said candidates should instead encourage their supporters to become volunteer poll officials and formal observers at the county seat and at polling places across the state.

“It’s a much more fruitful way to be really involved, and it’s really meaningful,” Richer told The Daily Beast, adding that the calls to monitor the polls are “a little bit of meat to throw at people who have been fed with this ‘2,000″. Mules’ nonsense. But it’s meaningless, and it’s a waste of time to go out.”

However, the drop box in Mesa has continued to attract those who seek to scare voters – and for those who work to foster a safe environment for voters.

“We deployed people throughout the early voting period to that dropbox, just to keep checking,” Moss said. “We know that in the evening, once it gets dark, that’s when things happen here.” She said that there was no confrontation, but that her volunteers go in groups to protect themselves.

Countywide, there have so far been nine formal complaints of voter intimidation referred to local and federal law enforcement, Richer said. He argued that since Mesa’s videos went viral, the general environment in Maricopa County has “dropped in temperature.”

Voter protection advocates told The Daily Beast they feel intimidation efforts could backfire and actually spur even greater turnout.

Moss said that 2022 is an unusual environment because conspiracy theories have “really permeated different communities, so we see these people who are willing to be bad actors in this situation.”

“But I believe that, above all, the voters are still ready to come out, and they want to say something with their votes,” he said.

Indeed, on a Sunday afternoon, the parking lot at the Mesa polling station was empty. In just 20 minutes, eight people stopped by to cast their vote.

“These people just want attention, and they got attention for their bad behavior,” Gulotta said of the people who campaigned with their weapons at the ballot box. “In fact, they won’t win. People vote, and they will continue to vote.”

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